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Where are the best malaria-free safaris and holidays in Africa?

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
24 Dec 2018
South Africa - Kwandwe kids bones walk.jpg

Having just returned from South Africa and having had the privilege to revisit all of my favourite lodges and hotels, I can honestly reconfirm that you can have the most amazing city and safari experiences in these malaria-free regions.

These safaris and holidays are perfect for travellers who have families with young children to whom they would rather not administer anti-malarial drugs, as well as for ladies who are pregnant or perhaps people who are taking medication which would not agree with anti-malarials. South Africa is a fantastic option where you can have a full range of experiences, all within areas that are non-malarial.

Cape Town and the Winelands

So – first stop – Cape Town and Babylonstoren. There are a number of reasons that many people want to stay outside of Cape Town. The main reason is traffic - it is pretty unbelievable! Just two days ago I spent a whole hour in dead still traffic along the beach on a Sunday.



If you travel in peak season – especially over the December through to April period - there can be horrendous queues for everything; from Table Mountain, to Cape Point National Park to the nicest restaurants.  To avoid this angst, I would very much recommend our clients stay outside of Cape Town itself, in the Winelands.

There are two of my favourite places to choose from. The first is a working wine farm, with the best kitchen garden in the southern hemisphere, called Babylonstoren.

The fact that they produce some superb wine too is very helpful and finally, they have an amazing restaurant called Babel. So – lots of great reasons to stay there! Nearby Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, two of the most famous Cape wine regions are also home to some of the best restaurants in the Cape.



The second is a villa – at La Clé des Montagnes in Franschhoek.  If you don’t want to stay at the villa (which I would thoroughly recommend and of which they have two), then you can stay at their main lodge. La Clé has an informal magic and charm. You arrive into the kitchen where you meet and see the chefs busy creating your food for the day as well as being handed a glass of wine.

Each villa comes with its own chef, butler and swimming pool. They can also arrange wonderful barbeques for you – from the traditional South African braai with its amazing boerewors (sausage), steaks and kebabs and salads to a crayfish BBQ or fish BBQ.



It is within easy reach of Cape Town and a fantastic way to spend an evening is to have a food-jam session with a lovely lady where you learn to cook at her house. When we met her, she arranged for some friends to come along so we would meet local people. She is a phenomenal sax player - hence a jamming session for anyone who is interested in picking up a musical instrument!

Then take a day out scrambling up Table Mountain with a guide and having a gourmet picnic on top, or take a day with a guide to all the top beaches, where you can learn to surf with eight-times South African surfing champion, or stand up paddle, or kayak, or trek or mountain bike.

The gear is all provided for you so the day can be as varied as you wish – and its seriously good fun! Again, it’s packed with a gourmet picnic, so nobody goes hungry!



Philanthropy in Khayelitsha

Another absolute must is Uthando – a charity formed by my friend James Fearnie, which the Explorations Company supports as a company. Essentially it’s an upliftment project in the Khayellisha township and one can see a few of the many projects they support.

Uthando, meaning ‘love’ in Xhosa, runs many programmes which include farm projects, children’s dance projects and a place for the elderly to commune and have special days out. One can visit these projects and learn from these fabulous, big-hearted people about life in the apartheid era.



I feel it is so important to learn something of South Africa’s history, but in a positive manner. You are also directly assisting the charity by doing so!

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Then it’s off to Grootbos – just two hours’ drive away – or one can fly into their private airstrip. The drive is amazingly scenic, but if time is of the essence then do fly. Grootbos is a Relais et Chateaux property and a luxury eco lodge, located in the Hermanus area.



The brain child of Michael Lutzeyer, it has transformed itself over the years from a holiday retreat for his family, to a commercial concern occupying 2500 hectares of pristine wilderness.  Here they have two villas – one six bedroomed and one three bedroomed – both utterly gorgeous, looking out across the ocean.

Clean lines and minimalist in design, each has its own swimming pool and comes with its own guide, chef and staff. So – why here? Firstly, your own private beach – and what a beach – simply stunning!



This area is entirely unique, filled with fynbos plants found nowhere else in the world. They are utterly beautiful. Whilst August and September are the best months for the spring flowering, there is always something in flower, year-round.

Then the whales – this is where the greatest concentration of southern right whale migrate from Antarctica and come into the bay to calve. All you can see is a bay filled with mothers and their calves. Walk along the beach and watch them breach close to you. It is mesmerising and incredibly moving.



You can take a boat trip out into the ocean to try to see the ‘Marine 5’. Here you will see whales, seals on Dyer Island, penguins, perhaps a shark (great white or bronze whaling shark) and hopefully some dolphins. 

On land they have fabulous horse riding with really excellent, well-schooled horses. One can take guided botany walks and trips throughout the reserve by vehicle, or simply relax in their spa. The food is simply sensational and they have included a wellness healthy eating selection which still has the most exquisite options! There is great running here and the villa also has a gym and a snooker table.



This is the perfect place to kick back and relax, but if you want to be active, there is something to keep you going every day! In terms of the lodges, they have one family lodge which is perfect for children and they have an adults-only lodge.

But what needs to be seen here, is what Michael has done for the children of the area. He has built an enormous floodlit AstroTurf football pitch, where visiting ‘guest’ coaches from the world over come and coach the children alongside the local coaches.



They also teach the children hockey, netball, swimming and kayaking, and now have several children playing at provincial level. This takes children off the streets and gives them an opportunity they could only have dreamed about. It truly is extraordinary and families love to attend the football matches to watch the children play.

Michael has also created a market garden for the residents of the local township, where they can grow their own vegetables and those they don’t eat, Michael guarantees to purchase at market rates for the lodge. Grootbos gives each person the seeds, the compost and teaches them how to grow these plants and harvest them.



Furthermore they have a fungi project where they purchase mushrooms at market price. The townspeople also use the skills they have learnt to grow plants, which are sold at a nursery with the money going back into the project, which helps to teach people gardening and landscaping, offering them a future.

Experience Conservation in Action at Kwandwe

Then, you can fly by private air charter to Kwandwe Private Reserve, set in 22 000 hectares in the Eastern Cape. This is the finest wildlife reserve with some of the best guides I have come across. They have three gorgeous villas and two lodges (only one accepts children).



They have a fabulous ‘young rangers’ programme (family programme) which really bonds the family together and teaches the children the ways of the bush.

The children learn skills such as bush cooking, how to track animals and take plaster casts of the prints, how to identify animals from their faeces, which trees and plants are used for medicinal properties (and which ones are used for toothbrushes and toilet paper!). There is so much to entertain children in the bush! Although serious – the guides make it absolutely fun!

There is a village one can visit which is linked to Kwandwe. The village make a lot of items for Kwandwe’s curio shop, the proceeds of which then go directly back into the community. Kwandwe also operate the Ubunye Foundation which has been very active in the local community, opening a library, setting up new classrooms for children using repurposed and brightly painted shipping containers, and supporting a women’s craft workshop.



As for traditional safari experiences, the wildlife here is astonishing! There are fabulous lion sightings, leopard sightings and most exciting of all – cheetah – which are becoming far harder to see in Africa as strong lion populations diminish cheetah populations. 

Guests can take night drives in search of nocturnal species like porcupine and aardvark. There are also wildlife photographers who can accompany you to help you get that ‘perfect shot’. Then, the most precious experience of all – the chance to be part of a rhino darting exercise for conservation, to help protect these beautiful creatures who have been on our earth for 1.5 million years.



I have had the honour of taking part in this truly unique and humbling experience on my recent visit to Kwandwe and I highly recommend this to everyone, though it is dependent on having a rhino needing to be chipped and the availability of the vet, so this should be organised well in advance.

For $6000.00, the helicopter is deployed with the chief vet, who then dart the rhino/s. Guests assist in rolling the rhino to a comfortable position and help the vets to install a microchip in the horn. The rhinos ear is also notched for identification purposes and other data taken. Their bloods are checked for health, they are given vitamins, and you are part of all of this!



You then see the rhino being given the antidote to the tranquiliser and woken up; it is aided and then it runs off into the bush. These processes are vital for conservation and the money that guests pay for this experience goes directly to anti-poaching work.

Kwandwe is gorgeous and luxurious and the villas have a real home from home feel. Whether walking or on a game drive, the hills surround you and there is a magic aura that settles onto this region as the sun sets. Truly dramatic – only surpassed by the staff themselves who are utterly wonderful and nothing is too much for them!



Without a doubt, it is possible to have the finest safari, culture, conservation and philanthropic experiences in South Africa, all the while staying in malaria-free areas. Please feel free to contact me for more information. 


Images provided courtesy of:

Babylonstoren, La Clé des Montagnes, Escape and Explore South Africa, Uthando (Love) South Africa, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and Kwandwe Private Game Reserve.